4-in-4 Begins With Northwestern

March 12, 2013

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The goal is winning four games in four days in Chicago at the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, but that isn’t possible without winning the first.

The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes open tournament play against No. 11 seed Northwestern in the first round at the United Center on Thursday at 8 p.m. (CT). Third-seeded Michigan State awaits the winner in a quarterfinal matchup Friday.

“We know the seedings and know Michigan State has the bye,” said sophomore Aaron White, who was named a third team All-Big Ten selection by the league’s media. “You don’t want to start thinking how we match up against them. You want to think about the scouting report with Northwestern and if we beat them, we’ll get a couple of hours to focus on Michigan State.”

UI head coach Fran McCaffery says the team’s entire focus is on the Wildcats, a team the Hawkeyes downed twice during the regular season. Iowa defeated Northwestern, 70-50, on Jan. 13 in Evanston before completing the season sweep with a 71-57 victory Feb. 8 in Iowa City.

“We have to show them those games so we see what worked for us and what they tried to do to us,” said McCaffery. “Then we’ll show them Michigan State, Ohio State — games they played really well.”

Northwestern enters the Big Ten Tournament having lost eight straight games and 10 of its last 11. The Wildcats are 13-18 overall and were 4-14 in conference action.

McCaffery says the Hawkeyes’ depth puts it in a unique position to advance and play games four straight days. Iowa has 10 players averaging 10 minutes per game.

“If you’re in a seven-man rotation, it’s going to be hard,” said McCaffery. “You’re going to slow down in the course of four days. As teams prepare for us, no matter what game you look at, sometimes there are different guys on the floor that are producing. It’s not always the same two top scorers and the same four players doing the same things.”

Iowa could be back at full strength with freshman guard Mike Gesell returning for the postseason. Gesell hasn’t played since Feb. 21 at Nebraska.

“It gives you another point guard, ball handler, shot maker and another guy who has experience,” said McCaffery. “It makes us that much deeper and that much better.”

There will be a 19-day span between games for Gesell.

“I am a competitor, and I really want to play in (Big Ten Tournament),” said Gesell, who is averaging nine points and 2.9 assists on the season. “I want what is best for our team, and I want to help this team out whatever way I can.”

The Hawkeyes don’t feel added pressure with prognosticators saying they need one, two or even three wins to scan their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s not like you go into the tournament not wanting to win games,” said White. “We want to win four games in four days, and we’re prepared to do that.”

It all starts Thursday against Northwestern.

The first-round game will be televised on ESPN2 with Mike Tirico, Dan Dakich and Samantha Ponder calling the action.